Though a news report triggered the story idea, post that it was mostly imagination at work – Jyoti Kapoor
Journalism may have been her first love, but screenwriting is where her true calling lies. As journalist-turned-writer Jyoti Kapoor awaits the release of her second film, Daawat-e-Ishq, the self-confessed foodie talks about the experience of writing this film that is inspired from a news story, how imagination is key for a writer and more.
This is your second Hindi film. From a journalist to a screenwriter, how did your foray into cinema happen? Did your background in journalism background help?
Yes, technically, this is going to be my second released film but like they say ‘har released picture ke peeche dus unreleased/unmade filmein hoti hain’, which have perpetually been in the pipeline forever. I was a fatigued journalist, totally consumed by the profession, wondering what to do next, when I chanced upon this advertisement where FTII had invited applications for admissions. The rest, as they say, is history.
Journalism was indeed my first love and my initial training ground in storytelling. The five w’s and one ‘h’ of reporting (who, when, where, what, why and how) when cleverly manipulated become the pillars of a good (fiction) story as well. The most important skill set of a reporter is to keep her eyes and ears open, at all times. And that’s what, I feel, a writer needs to do too. In so many ways, both professions are so similar. Even as a journalist we had to first sell our stories to our editor, who then decided for or against printing them. It’s the same rigmarole here. No matter how good a script is, you have to be an equally good saleswoman to sell it to the Producer/Director/Actor.
Tell us about the idea of Daawat-e-Ishq. Was it your brainchild or did director Habib Faisal come to you with the idea?
It’s such a pleasant coincidence that this story’s journey also started from a newspaper. Habib came across an interesting news-story and shared it with me. He thought this story had the potential for a feature film and asked me to try developing something around it. Several back and forths later, the story began to take a life of its own.
Since you (Habib and you) have co-written the film, what was the association like? How would you define your individual writing styles and how did it come together as one film?
Actually, I was mostly on board until we cracked the story. Once the story was in place I passed the baton on to Habib who then went on to write the screenplay and dialogues of the film. In terms of the writing process, I think it’s half a battle won when the writer and director are on the same page, when they share the same world view, speak the same language. In that sense I think, I was really lucky. I had absolutely loved and identified with his previous films, especially Do Dooni Chaar and Band Baaja Baraat which Habib had scripted. He had also read my work and had liked it.
Habib has a very balanced approach when it comes to Plot vs Character while I sometimes tend to get carried away with the characters. Plot and Structure are as important in a good story as are the characters. You cannot get indulgent and lose track of your destination. In that sense, he always kept bringing me back on track whenever I deviated. We did have our own share of arguments, but then that’s an essential part of writing, to keep questioning each other at every stage so that you don’t lose focus.
What is the kind of research that went into writing Daawat-e-Ishq? How familiar were you with the cultures of Hyderabad and Lucknow?
That’s a very interesting question, which I have been asked too often. I assume because I am a Punjabi, born and brought up in North and the story is steeped in Lucknowi and Hyderabadi cultures, which naturally, I was not so familiar with. Frankly, I had the same apprehensions but then Habib told me to go ahead and write the characters I was comfortable with and forget where we’ll set the story.
That’s my job, he said, to give it the Hyderabadi/Lucknowi tadka. I did exactly the same thing and it was easy because I was confident that he knew these cultures inside out. And at the end of the day, all human behavior can be reduced to four basic emotions. And emotions are universal. If it’s a good story, it will always ring true.
The film seems to be like an interesting culinary journey. Does food play a key role in this film?
As you must have seen in the promos, food, indeed does play a very important role in the film. And anyone who knows me, knows that I can write a thesis when it comes to food. Blame it on my Punjabi genes. However, issues like dowry that are unfortunately so seeped into our culture, have also been extensively explored in the film.
Have you drawn references or been inspired by any real/reel life people for the characters of Tariq and Gulrez? How important is inspiration for a writer?
Though a news report triggered the process, post that it was mostly imagination at work. While we did have a certain idea about Gulrez’s character, Tariq was mostly build from scratch.
While writers do get inspired from real life all the time, at one point you have to take a leap from reality and trust your imagination. Inspiration is important, but it’s sheer hard work that takes you through this journey. The best inspiration for a writer, more often than not, is their deadline.
If you could tell us a few key points that you kept in mind while writing the film?
There’s only one thing that I had in mind while I was writing; that I enjoy the process, that I have fun with it, that I laugh and cry with it. If you enjoy writing the film, people will enjoy watching it. You are your first audience and that’s about it.
And what would you say were the pressure points faced while writing?
I would like to answer this question with a beautiful quote by Orhan Pamuk.
“The writer’s secret is not inspiration—for it is never clear where it comes from—it is his stubbornness, his patience. That lovely Turkish saying—to dig a well with a needle—seems to me to have been said with writers in mind. … If a writer is to tell his own story—tell it slowly, and as if it were a story about other people … he is to sit down at a table and patiently give himself over to this art—this craft …”
You have written for television as well. How different is the process and experience of writing a film vis-a-vis television?
I find writing for TV tougher. To churn out stories, day after day is not a joke. The pressure of a daily deadline is too much for me to handle. Having said that, TV does give you a certain sense of security and stability in life, which is very important for a writer to remain productive. Television writing is like daal and roti for so many of us at different stages in our careers. And trust me, however passionate an artist you might be, at the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to, paying your bills.
While TV writing is a more structured process, in terms of the pace, the time taken from the script to screen, the instant feedback, recovering the payments; films are a different ballgame all together. You always feel your film is so close to getting made, that you’re almost there. Until, one fine day, you realize, you have spent a decade just waiting for things to take off. That kind of uncertainty can kill your spirit. But when it does happen, when you finally get to see your credit roll down the big screen, you feel it was all worth it.
Who are the screenwriters that you look upto in the industry and why?
Oh there are so many! Like many other writers, I am besotted with Gulzar Saab’s work. He is one of the living legends and has managed to capture the beauty in the simplicity, the mundaneness of life. Another prolific writer that comes to my mind is the late Vijay Tendulkar. I love everything by Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihlani who mostly collaborated on their scripts, the earlier works of Salim-Javed, the poignant Abrar Alvi, the legendary Manohar Shyam Joshi…I can go on and on. Among the contemporaries, Jaideep Sahni’s work always intrigues me. Vishal Bhardwaj is another veteran who is especially great with his dialogues.
How would you describe the scenario for women writers in Bollywood? Any words of advice for aspiring writers?
It’s the best time to work in Bollywood, especially for women writers who are making their presence felt and how!
Just one word of advice for aspiring writers, hang in there! Be patient and don’t be too harsh on yourself. NEVER-WORK-FOR-FREE! If you don’t respect your work, no one else will.